Nice new digs. They are well deserved; however, I hope the owners don't forget the humble people who kept them in business on Third Street...
I actually grew up in that neighborhood part of my early childhood--grandparents were homeowners there--and while it wasn't crime free, at no point did I ever feel like I had to duck from drive by shootings or as if I were in the middle of a "War Zone" like Beirut, or Iraq, and Afghanistan. If anything, I had to dodge mostly creepy old men who leered at my 8 year old butt as I walked by them on the way to the corner store to buy candy, and sadly, there are creepy old men of all stripes all over the place. The neighborhood back then was full of homeowners, some renters, but mostly homeowners who took personal pride and value in their homes and the property attached to them, who had lived there for years and years and raised children there, sent some off to college, etc., etc. Not wealthy folks, but working and middle class, the families supposedly portrayed in the hit movie THE HELP. They worked as domestics or in factories or teachers, or school cafeteria lunch ladies, and "physical plant" guys, etc., or what have you in the segregated city. Yes, I'm talking about elders. My grandmother's uncle owned orchards there before many of the houses, churches, etc. were built. Originally from the mid-West, she inherited her home from him. She could tell me what trees grew where in specific areas, and stories about the history of owners in certain houses, etc., etc. She told me all the stories about Rhodes before Rhodes was known as Rhodes. Who do you think did most of the menial work on the college's campus and where do you think they lived? All that's to say, I'm not disagreeing with the fact that things have gone truly down hill in that community. What I am saying is that it wasn't always the case, and certainly wasn't so one-sided "Cops: Memphis" as today. Fact is, if you are white, you probably would feel about as welcome there as most black folks might feel walking in certain predominantly white neighborhoods in Memphis where they have no friends, family, colleagues, or personal history. When you're the stranger, everything looks strange to you, and you exaggerate foolishness as if it is some episode from a bad cop drama. When you're the stranger, you often don't know who you're looking at, what their relationships are, and what in the world is happening. You make meaning by applying your own known paradigms onto the situation. I can't tell you how many times people looked at me and thought some ignorant dumbness that became obvious after their jaws dropped when I spoke to them. Humans do this all the time. I did this unconsciously when visiting a few far away lands, reconciling the mess I'd seen in movies and on television with what I was actually hearing and experiencing. It takes time and real experiences to get out of this common habit. To the drive by white statistics taker, she thinks every male on the street is a street soldier, a drug dealer. Through this pathological, fearful lens, Mrs. Johnson's two nephews who just got out of school and are standing in the driveway talking loudly about some teenage foolishness suddenly look like whatever fake gangster rapper you remember seeing in some fake hip hop video on tv. Black folks--especially black men--all seem frightening to white folks from what I can tell, and God help you if you don't know how to code switch and speak in standard English (though Memphians of all stripes do some interesting things with that standardized American English, lol!). Suddenly, you are a mugger or something when you are just standing outside minding your business, bored and hanging out with your cousin or something. I'm not saying that none of these young people are working in the underground, illegal economy, but just that not all of them--in fact, I'd venture to say, not most of them. Kids don't get to choose where they live and they usually manage to build enough social skills to navigate whatever social setting they find themselves in. If Ray Ray down the block is slanging, you don't have to be slanging, too, just to speak and acknowledge him as you go out about your own business. I can know you--we are neighbors--and not condone or follow what you are doing. Somehow, other communities get the benefit of doubt as humans, while others get painted with such a broad stripe of foolishness that it just down right dangerous, beyond insulting. I knew trifling, up to no good classmates, but they didn't stop me or my family from making sure that I did what I should do to be successful. I guess I lived in what was truly a "mixed" neighborhood, perhaps something that is becoming more and more a relic of the past. I know because I've been there before, and folks make all kinds of assumptions based on evening news soundbytes--not personal experiences. Most victims of black crime are OTHER BLACK FOLKS, but you wouldn't know that by the way white folks rip and run down the streets proclaiming how threatened they felt just by being present. Geesh, I feel like that walking into regular department stores and places of business, and most of y'all think you're being polite and civil, but you've got that frozen "we've never seen Negroes who can speak--are you from Memphis?" dumb expression on your face. Anyhow, I heard the same cries and fears in Harlem when I lived there--from people, mostly white--who thought 42nd street was "Uptown". Now it's mostly gentrified and the same people who were afraid to catch a show at the Apollo are now walking their toy poodles and strollers down the streets. I'm not saying these neighborhoods were Shangri La or Nirvana or anything, but they weren't as frightening and terrifying for regular black folks who lived there, owned their homes, knew the parents and in some cases, the grandparents of many of the young people who lived there and constantly were "nosy" and involved in the welfare of their neighbors. This wasn't some mythic long time ago, but in the 70s and 80s and early 90s. These were the same families who helped--in secret at times--the Sanitation workers and other Civil Rights efforts that impacted our whole nation. What we have to ask ourselves, is what has changed and why and how? Many of these elders have passed on and their homes have been sold by their heirs or what have you. Many of those homes are owned by absentee slum lords who live quite well in other neighborhoods not too far away and don't give a rats arse about the houses, their value, or the neighborhood where this property remains. Also keep in mind that Memphis has a strategic redevelopment plan that was mapped out some time ago, and this devaluing and "urban blight" is a calculated part of that plan. None of this maneuvering is new or unique to Memphis. The same strategies were used in many cities around the country, particularly in larger urban settings. I lived in Harlem on a historic street in Stanford White brownstones that had been allowed to go into such disrepair that they were boarded up and remained on the market while the neighborhood didn't have any real grocery stores, no full-time banks with actual services (the one Chase bank had a bullet proof window like a Chinese food take out restaurant and closed at 3 pm!). No one gave a rats arse about these homes, but then they miraculously appeared back on the market after being bought at pushover prices and now are worth millions. Columbia University was instrumental in this, as well as some of the banks such as Chase and Citibank, etc. I think this is part of a larger plan to relocate the people here, bulldoze the homes and rebuild it at faux "mixed income" set-ups like downtown--oops, "Uptown." Not such a bad thing if it's actually available to families of "mixed" income, and not the minimum few units required for the private developers to get the government handouts/entitlements, oops, "incentives." My question is where are they going to "relocate" these folks who are clearly undesirable in most neighborhoods? Which zip code is going to get the "Hickory Hill" makeover? Eh, let me stop rambling. 'nuff said!
I heart monsieur awesomeberg. yeah, what he said. And hoo dat be (nice name!).
Thanks for covering this, Leonard! We appreciate any news and information about writers in the Mid-South. Please keep'em comin'.
By Micaela Watts
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